The Unbearable Heaviness of Being American

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Put down that cheeseburger and listen up. Americans are fatter than ever, according to a new collection of studies in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. Back in 1991, only one in eight Americans was obese — or 30 percent over his or her ideal body weight — and today fully one fifth of the country is hauling around those extra pounds. This is not just an aesthetic crisis; the JAMA studies estimate that 300,000 Americans die each year from obesity-related causes such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. How is all this weight gain possible in a country that spends $33 billion a year on apparently futile attempts to slim down?

The answer is simple, says TIME writer Joel Stein. "People know that the equation of weight loss is very basic: Eating less and exercising more leads to losing weight. It can be hard to eat less and itís certainly tough to exercise. So spending $33 billion on weird fad diets is actually quite easy when you look at the options," Stein says. "It's a lot easier to fumble around with complicated diets and then blame the diet for a failure than it is to take responsibility for gaining weight." Granted, it hasn't helped that prepackaged, high-calorie, cholesterol-laden foods have infiltrated our supermarkets; people are busier than ever, so they grab what's convenient, and convenient often means unhealthy. But that excuse is not particularly convincing in the face of an actual supermarket aisle, which is stuffed to the gills not only with prepackaged snacks but with fresh veggies and salads requiring no washing, no cutting — just eating.